Starring David Tennant
Developed by Russel T. Davies
Instead of embarking on a fifth season for 2009, "Doctor Who" instead produced a short series of special extended episodes throughout the year, culminating in the two-part "The End of Time" which would see the end of David Tennant's run as the character and introduce Matt Smith to the world as the new Doctor.
In "The Next Doctor," the Doctor finds himself in London in the 1800s during Christmas time, but once again on Christmas, something is afoot: the evil Cybermen have somehow arrived and begun their plans for world domination once more. But when the Doctor arrives, he comes across something shocking: another man claiming to be the Doctor (David Morrissey) is also there, already on the trail of the Cybermen. But is he a future regeneration of the Doctor, or is something else afoot?
"Planet of the Dead" begins with a young woman and thief Christina (Michelle Ryan) boarding a bus to escape the police after pulling off a daring museum heist. But who else gets on the bus? The Doctor, who happens to be in the middle of tracking some kind of strange radiation. Just as the bus is about to be cornered by the police, the radiation creates a hole in the universe, sending the bus and all of its occupants to a strange desert world. There, they discover that going back through the portal without the protection of the bus (which is stuck in the sand) will kill them, and there is a horde of hungry alien creatures descending upon them which will use the portal to invade and consume the Earth.
The Doctor then travels to the red planet in "The Waters of Mars," where he encounters the first human explorers on Mars, led by Captain Adelaide Brooke (Lindsay Duncan). Unfortunately, history records that the entire crew died in a mysterious explosion that destroyed the entire colony. The Doctor believes that their deaths are a fixed point in time and cannot be altered, but their agony convinces him to attempt to save them anyway. But doing so might unravel the entire future of the human race.
Finally, the Doctor comes face to face with the resurrected Master (John Simm) who plans to use an alien device to write his DNA over that of all the humans on Earth, turning the entire population into an army to send out across the cosmos in "The End of Time." The Doctor is sent back to Earth after hearing a prophecy from the Ood (Brian Cox) and encounters Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins), Donna Noble's grandfather, who has been having visions of the Master. But what even the Master doesn't know is that his plan is merely part of an ancient plan by the Time Lords, led by the President (Timothy Dalton) to return to reality from the last moments of the Time War. But the once-great and noble Time Lords are not who they used to be, and the Doctor knows that releasing them into the world once more would lead to the end of time as we know it.
These specials are a lot of fun, though varying in quality. "The Next Doctor" is fairly lame. It features some fun bits, but the script is predictable to a fault. It seems to even know how predictable it is, since it dispenses with the "is he really the Doctor?" concept a mere 20 minutes in. The Cybermen aren't used to particularly good effect here, and the whole hour feels kind of limp.
"Planet of the Dead" picks up considerably, with a more inspired premise and fun script. "Planet of the Dead" is also the first episode of "Doctor Who" to be shot in HD, and it shows. The alien menace here is pretty cool, and the desert setting is an interesting change of scenery for the Doctor.
"The Waters of Mars" picks up even more, with a climax that's both hugely important and almost frightening for the Doctor character. In trying to save the lives of the Mars colony crew, the Doctor realizes that as the last of the Time Lords, he should no longer be beholden to their rules. But a man who can control time itself can gather too much power, and we all know that power corrupts. Here we get to see a glimpse of the man the Doctor could become if he were to dispose of those rules and limitations he imposes on himself, and it's not a happy picture.
This leads almost directly into "The End of Time," as the Doctor must confront a prophecy foretelling his death and the return of a great evil that could destroy all of time. The Doctor's temptation to abandon his rules will be called upon once again. The tone of this special is fairly dark, so that the silly bits that usually permeate a "Doctor Who" story seem almost out of place here. But the script is fairly clever, and has some interesting twists and makes great use of its cameo appearances by past guest stars instead of shoehorning them into some over-blown crossover like the season four finale. The final ten minutes is a bittersweet trip through the last four years, allowing us (and the Doctor) to say goodbye to his friends and allies.
I'm sad to see David Tennant go. He was a wonderful Doctor, bringing a huge sense of fun and wit to the series. He eclipsed the previous actor, Christopher Eccleston, in pretty much every way. I'm curious to see how Matt Smith will do, but Tennant will be a hard act to follow.